The Belgian Sector Part Seven – Ramscappelle

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The church at Ramscappelle, completely rebuilt, as so many others, since the war.  The village was under constant German attack throughout the Battle of the Yser, the final action of which took place here on 30th & 31st October 1914, as we shall see later.

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The war memorial at Ramscappelle remembers eleven men of the village who lost their lives in defence of their country during the Great War.

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Remember the name Arthur Popeye.  We shall encounter him again in a future post.

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Outside the church, this plaque remembers the action that took place here at the end of October 1914.  Loosely translated it says:

“On 31st October 1914 the 16th Battalion of French Chasseurs and our 6th Regiment of the Line together at the point of the bayonet recaptured the village of Ramscappelle, and on 30th October 1938 together they offered as a brotherly remembrance this commemorative plaque to the people of Ramscappelle.”

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So what actually did happen at Ramscappelle over those two days in 1914?

On the morning of 30th October, following a night of continuous bombardment, and with the flood waters still rising, the Germans launched one final attack along almost the whole Belgian front, from Nieuwpoort in the north, nearly as far as Diksmuide to the south. The villages of Ramscappelle and Pervijze took the brunt of the offensive, the Belgian and French defenders resisting the advancing Germans with heroic determination.  At Ramscappelle station the Germans reached the railway embankment where they succeeded in breaching the Belgian lines, crossing the tracks and advancing a further quarter of a mile into the village, a counter-attack by a combined force of Belgian and French troops finally managing to halt them there. A little way west of the village square the Germans had captured the local mill which now bristled with machine guns, their field of fire making any frontal assault to recapture the village extremely hazardous. However, the flood waters were still rising to the east of Ramscappelle and the Germans began to realize that they were in danger of being cut off and isolated in the village. On the night of the 30th October, bowing to the inevitable, the bulk of the Germans in Ramscappelle retreated back across the railway embankment, leaving a smaller force in the village to cover their retreat.  All along the line between Nieuwpoort and Diksmuide, the Germans were forced to retreat to the safety of the east bank of the Yser.  Next morning, a Franco-Belgian attack on Ramscappelle, supported by a French artillery bombardment, successfully removed the remaining Germans from the village (as remembered on the above plaque), and the final action of the Battle of the Yser came to an end.  Attention in this sector would now turn towards Diksmuide, but that is for a later post.

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The site of the station is worth a visit, and necessitates a brief diversion along the road that leads east out of Ramscappelle, past more plaques commemorating the action that took place here:

“The 14th Belgian Regiment of the Line here gloriously took part in re-capturing Ramscappelle on 31st October 1914.  Here it lost more than a hundred heroes.”

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The site of Ramscappelle railway station is marked by this Albertina Marker by the side of the road.  A number of these markers were erected throughout Belgium between 1984 & 1988 to commemorate the death of King Albert I in 1934, fifty years earlier.  Each marker is inscribed with the King’s monogram and the coat of arms of the province of West Flanders, and remembers a significant First World war action, as in this case*, or site of interest.

*Worked it out?  Of course you have.

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Yours truly, standing on the very point where the Germans breached the Belgian front line during their initial assault on the village.  The cycling path on which I am standing, the ‘Frontzate’, follows the route of the old railway line all the way from Nieuwpoort to Diksmuide, passing the remains of a number of Belgian bunkers on the way.  Not being cyclists, these treasures proved out of reach for Baldrick and me, but we shall come across the Frontzate again during this tour, so it’s worth remembering that when we do, we are standing right on the Belgian front line during the Battle of the Yser.

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At some point following the recapture of the village, Belgian engineers fortified the station building for use as an artillery observation post…

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…which is why it survives to this day.

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“At this place in October 1914 the 14th Line Regiment courageously battled for the recapture of Ramscappelle.”

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The concrete blocks used to reinforce the building are clear to see on the southern side of the building.

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As you will have gathered, Baldrick not only brought his own camera with him on this trip, but chose to use it, which I find helps.

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And that, presumably, is the shot.

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Or maybe this one.

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No, it wasn’t really worth it, was it.  But it does at least show the thickness of the walls.

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A Brit, a Belgian and a German.  A depiction of the Christmas truce that took place along certain stretches of the Western Front in December 1914…

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…although I find it hard to imagine many cordial exchanges taking place between Belgians and Germans in this particular sector, just a couple of months after the slaughter of October.

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These buffers are relics from a hundred years ago, but no longer, methinks, in situ.  Exactly where they were originally sited I am not entirely sure, but I have seen a photograph of one of them on what is now the cycle path (and was once the track, of course) much nearer the station building itself, so that might have been its original position.

By the way, should you ever visit the station, please resist the temptation to pee on the buffers.  That isn’t me telling you what, or indeed what not, to do.  It’s what the sign hanging on the buffer to the left says.  Really.

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View of the station from the buffers.

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Much later, the building was put to use by the Germans as a bunker during the Second World War.

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Anyway, on leaving the station…

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…we shall now head back into the village, past the yellow brick memorial and the plaques we saw earlier…

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…to the site of the mill mentioned previously that marked the extent of the German advance on 30th October 1914,…

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…the spot now marked by this rather cute little windmill.

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As you will have spotted, this is also the site of another of the Demarcation Stones that we have encountered before on our travels through Flanders, signifying that this was as far west as the Germans ever managed to advance.  Ramscappelle, or what remained of it, would stay in Belgian hands for the rest of the war.  This Demarcation Stone, topped with a Belgian helmet, not surprisingly, on this occasion, is in excellent condition, and the inscriptions on its sides are still clearly legible.

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The stones were originally inscribed on three sides, in three languages, French, Flemish and English, with the words “Ici fut repoussé l’envahisseur” or “Ici fut arrete l’envahisseur”,  “Hier werd de overweldiger tot staangebracht”, and “Here the invader was brought to a standstill”.  Many surviving stones no longer bear these inscriptions, for reasons you will find, along with much other information on Belgian Demarcation Stones, if you click this link: Potijze Demarcation Stone

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Time to leave Ramscappelle, our route now continuing south towards the village of Pervijze, also the scene of fierce fighting throughout the Battle of the Yser.

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